Rip theories put to the test

Rob Brander knows what it feels like to be caught in a rip current that quickly takes you hundreds of metres from the shore. As he was being swept out to sea, some of the common advice about what to do popped into his mind, such as ”swim to the side” of the rip, he recalls. But, ”the rip was so wide I couldn’t actually see either side”.

Another favourite phrase, ”don’t worry” because the rip will bring you back to the beach, entered his head. But on this occasion he could not see the beach, just big walls of water.

”Finally, I reminded myself that I should ‘relax and don’t panic’ and was amazed that this provided me with absolutely no comfort at all,” he relates in his book, Dr Rip’s Essential Beach Book: Everything you need to know about Surf, Sand and Rips.

Dr Brander, a coastal geomorphologist at the University of NSW, threw himself into the rip in the name of science, as part of an experiment to try and understand these often deadly ”rivers of the sea”.

Now, he wants other people to do the same.

Starting in December at Shelly Beach on the central coast, his team will begin a three-year project in which four swimmers at a time will test out different strategies in a rip.

Other physical aspects of the project will be the use of new GPS-based technology to map out the paths that rips follow.

For the social science part of the project, he also wants to hear from people who have experienced being caught in a rip anywhere in the world. They can fill in an online survey at sls.com.au.

”I’ve been studying and measuring rips for years but it occurred to me that no one has really thought to talk to people who’ve been caught in rips to understand their experience and response.” This is the best way to find out what sort of educational message would be most effective in future, he says.

”We want to find out how often they go to the beach. Why did they swim where they did? Do they remember how they got caught in the rip? What did it feel like? Did any safety messages come into their head and what did they do? Did they swim out or suddenly stand up? Or were they rescued? ”

Rips are the main cause of nearly 100 drownings and more than 25,000 surf rescues in Australia each year.

”In particularly bad summers, someone will drown in a rip approximately every three days,” Brander says. Yet, rips get nowhere near the publicity that rare shark attacks do.

No one has really thought to talk to people who’ve been caught in rips to understand their experience and response.

To remind people about this hazard, Surf Life Saving Australia, which is the industry partner in the Australian Research Council Linkage Grant project, will carry out an eye-catching demonstration this Saturday.

A harmless purple dye will be released into a rip at every beach in Sydney and at other locations around Australia.

Brander has used this technique many times to track the movement of rips. His students have also watched how oranges travel in the surf.

Often the oranges flow in a large circle and come back to the beach within five to ten minutes, he says. Sometimes they head offshore, never to be seen again.

At other times, they disappear. ”But when we come back an hour later, the beach is covered in oranges.”

The new technology the team will use are drifters – devices that look like mini rockets and float through the surf like a swimmer would. They have GPS units attached to indicate speed, distance travelled, and eventual position.

Brander says the accepted wisdom has long been that rips flow out to sea. But recent studies with drifters in the US, UK and France suggest rips flow in circles, without going beyond the breaking waves, about 80 per cent of the time.

Only about 20 per cent would ”squirt” people out the back.

This confirms what he has observed using dyes and oranges, and could have significant implications for safety messages.

”If most of them recirculate, maybe they’re not as scary as you think.”

Two years ago, Surf Life Saving Australia launched a national rip education campaign that caused heated debate. It was based on the message, ”to escape a rip, swim parallel to the beach”.

Critics, including professional lifeguards and surf safety educators such as the former ironman champion, Craig Riddington, claimed it was a potentially dangerous message because many people who get caught in rips are poor swimmers and would waste energy trying to swim parallel to the beach. Staying calm and afloat, conserving energy and signalling for help was a safer approach, they argued.

The new project, which will initially involve lifesavers who are strong swimmers wearing GPS units, will examine this question.

Four will go into a rip at a time, two of whom will swim across the rip and two who will simply see where it takes them, while other lifesavers watch on, ready to assist.

Apart from at Shelly Beach, tests will be carried out Gunnamatta Bay in Victoria, a notorious beach for rips, and at a beach along the Surfers Paradise strip.

Brander says the good thing that came out of the furore about the swim parallel campaign was that it drew people’s attention to rips.

It was an unwinnable debate, he says. Swimming parallel will work for some swimmers, while staying afloat will work for others. And he suspects that most average swimmers who get caught in a rip panic and tend to forget any advice anyway.

It is much better to not get caught in a rip in the first place. ”The important thing is we’ve got to start educating people how to spot rips,” Brander, who had made popular youtube videos on rip spotting, which are also available on his science of the surf website, says.

Just as with looking both ways before crossing the road, it should become second nature to spend five to 10 minutes looking for rips on arrival at the beach. Yet, research has shown that 60 per cent of holidaymakers on popular NSW beaches could not spot a rip when shown a picture of one, and international tourists from countries without beach culture are likely to be even less knowledgeable.

Bondi – how a valley turned into a beach

About 300 million years ago Australia was part of a supercontinent known as Gondwanaland, which also consisted of South America, Africa, India, New Zealand and Antarctica.

The Australian landscape was already being shaped at this time with mountains to the north, south and west of present-day Sydney leaving a bowl-shaped basin in the middle.

About 230 million years ago, while dinosaurs ran amok, this basin started to fill up with layers of sediments carried by massive river systems. Some of the sand layers turned into sandstone rock, most notably a 300-metre-thick layer that people walk along today called the Hawkesbury sandstone.

As the supercontinent slowly started to break up, Australia gradually moved northwards, with New Zealand breaking away about 120 million years ago.

The divorce was slow, taking about 40 million years as the Tasman Sea opened up to the north like a zipper between the two land masses. This left the brand new east coast of Australia with a steep and narrow continental shelf exposed to large waves that started to slowly erode the Hawkesbury sandstone cliffs, leaving behind a rock platform and a very indented coastline.

The opening of the Tasman also triggered more river erosion on the Australian continent resulting in huge amounts of sand being dumped on the continental shelf.

During the past 2 million years, the sea level has been going up and down like a yo-yo.

The last ice age was 18,000 years ago and the sea level was 120 metres lower than it is today.

Present-day Bondi wasn’t even a beach, but a small valley covered in native vegetation, because the beaches were about 25 kilometres to the east.

As the earth warmed up, the ice melted and the sea level rose rapidly about 6500 years ago to the level it is today.

As it rose, the sand lying on the continental shelf was bulldozed landward, ultimately filling up the coastal indentations when it stopped.

And that is how Bondi formed.

The sand you see today is pretty much the same sand that’s been sitting there for about 6500 years, but the sand grains themselves are millions of years old and probably came from inland Australia.

Doctors are practising what they leech

DoctorsIF YOU think your job sucks spare a thought for the Richardsonianus australis, a species of leech increasingly being used for medicinal purposes.

The practice of leech therapy has been around for more than 2000 years, with the creatures used to treat everything from hysteria to haemorrhoids. They fell out of favour with the advent of modern medicine but are back in vogue and being used by both mainstream medics and alternative practitioners.

The Richardsonianus australis, a species from Victoria, has been used in NSW public hospitals for about a decade, mainly in the field of microsurgery. Now alternative practitioners in Australia have latched on to the leech as a treatment for conditions such as varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis and arthritis.

And clinics overseas offer leech therapy as a beauty treatment. Stefan Hafner, a Sydney leech therapist who has worked as a paramedic and has a background in acupuncture, has been using the creatures for about a year.

”They are very effective for certain conditions,” he said. ”The main active ingredient in their saliva is called hirudin, which is a very strong anticoagulant. Leeches can be used to treat any condition where you have pooled blood, such as varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, bruising or osteoarthritis of the knee.

”It’s about breaking down coagulated blood which blocks blood flow to the area.”

He admits some patients are squeamish about the idea of having the parasites on their body.

”Some people are really for it; they are really interested,” he said. ”Other people just find it too gross.”

Hafner buys his beasts from a leech farmer in Victoria (”He posts them by express mail”) and retires them after use.

”I can’t reuse them because of the risk of cross infection,” he said. ”So I keep them in a retirement jar and have them on display in the clinic so people can look at them. In a hospital setting, they usually get killed.”

A spokeswoman for NSW Health said leeches were used in about six public hospitals in the state, generally in plastic surgery to reduce blood clots after skin grafts or the reimplantation of fingers.

Glenn Orgias, a surfer who had his left hand reattached after a shark attack in 2009, was the beneficiary of leeching as part of his treatment.

Liverpool Hospital is the leader of leech therapy in NSW, using it between 10 and 15 times a year and distributing leeches to other hospitals around the country.

Formerly housed in a room containing cleaning equipment, the leeches were moved to their own room in the hospital’s orthopaedic and trauma ward this year.

Education

educationThe youth population is continuously increasing, and is estimated to reach 1.8 billion this year. Obviously, it is a large population of mass power. Yet, as we say goodbye to another year’s International Youth Day, as the new Youth Advisor for the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, I think it crucial to point out that a vast portion of youth energy remains confined by physical and mental chains in countries affected by war and conflict. This must be addressed.

In my home, Syria, young people face many challenges. My country is the home of 4 million young people, of whom none have managed to survive war’s impact. A 6-year war has produced 4 million young people left behind with a low quality education, more hunger, increasing numbers of poor and displaced people… and so the list goes on.

Most youngsters saw quickly that the key for a sustainable and safer future was to flee Syria to a developed country. Others were less fortunate, restrained by the high costs of leaving and other social and economical barriers.

education1Last week marked International Youth Day, with the theme of poverty and hunger matters. This theme did not go far enough. It should have been expanded to include the very important, tight and vital link between global goals 1, 2 and 4: Poverty, Hunger and Quality Education.

A poor and malnourished child, is a child who is incapable of learning. Studies show that children and young people who suffer from hunger and are based in an unhealthy environment are not able to develop their cognitive skills nor learn in school.

Nevertheless, is this the only trouble acting as a solid barrier in the face of 4 million young people in Syria? No, it is not. Aside from the increasing devastation of our education system’s infrastructure by the ongoing fighting, which I have referred to in a previous blog on this site, a survey I conducted with young people in mid-2016 showed other challenging circumstances standing between them and education. Amongst 90 respondents, 73 from those based in the capital, Damascus and 58 from university students, they said that transportation is a top barrier to participating in different educational events.

Looking at the results also shows that many young people lack mentorships from older, experienced and high achievers around them. This can isolate young people from the older generation and create a deep division between the two generations, when they could be learning from each other’s experiences.

Another challenge is linguistic hardship. This results in a lack of effective communication with people in foreign countries. Nonetheless, only one in ten young people identified this as a problem. This indicates that youth can’t yet identify this as a vital issue towards building a sustainable and decent future, at the career or academic level.

The survey results also show that young people in Syria clearly feel that they are disconnected from the outer world. Almost half (44.7%) said that they are completely ignorant of the global goals; around a sixth (14.1%) said that they haven’t heard of them but don’t believe that to be a problem. This makes the Syrian young population appear as a population living inside their own bubble. I attribute the reason for this back to the linguistic skills. Because most content on websites, social media networks and even books and publications are available either in English or in other languages.

education2One can’t deny the massive challenges that Syria faces in providing a good quality education. Yet I have seen progress in this matter being made with new initiatives to teach out-of-school children and young people. There are now scholarships awarded to highly ambitious Syrian students in addition to many new online learning platforms, allowing them to learn from home, rather than venture outside.

As we acknowledge and celebrate youth around the world, let us pledge to continue looking after young people affected by conflict not only in Syria but in the whole world. Let’s work together to provide sufficient opportunities for all to have their right of education not as a gift from us, as philanthropists, but as their normal and basic human right. Let’s pledge to continue taking real and big actions to make sure all youth are equipped with the proper skills, education and tools needed to take the lead towards a better and more sustainable future.

Party people fined in Elwood parking blitz

parkingLOCAL councils are raking in more than $100 million a year in parking fees and fines as metropolitan roads become more congested.

The City of Melbourne earned more than $44 million in fines in 2010-11, up almost $3 million on the previous year’s take.

Port Phillip Council, which includes St Kilda, South Melbourne and Elwood, reaped $25 million in fees and fines last year and issued 178,000 parking tickets.

The windfall was 12 per cent up on the previous year and was almost 20 per cent of the council’s income.

Other councils that earned big bucks from parking fees and fines included Stonnington and Boroondara, according to a Herald Sun analysis of municipal annual reports.

Ratepayers Victoria president Jack Davis said councils were desperate for revenue, as they expected to be hit hard by the carbon tax.

“Parking fees are getting out of hand,” he said. “It’s all about getting some revenue in.”

But the Melbourne City Council said fines were needed to ensure that parking in the city was fair and accessible to everyone.

The revenue was used to pay for council services such as child care and recreation centres, a spokesman said.

“Thousands of people come into the City of Melbourne every day to shop, dine and go to major events – a big part of coming into the city is being able to access a car park,” she said.

Port Phillip Mayor Rachel Powning said there was heavy demand for parking in the municipality, and the increase in revenue was mainly due to upgraded ticket machines and higher fees last year.

“The number of parking infringements issued in the City of Port Phillip has been relatively stable on a year on year basis,” she said.

The Secret Life of Stuff

We start with Julie Hill hosing out maggots from her mother’s wheelie bin. They are the unintended consequence of the local council’s switch to fortnightly waste collection, done in the name of encouraging people to throw away less stuff and recycle more. As a lifelong professional green – a serial adviser to numerous governments and corporations – Julie Hill is in sympathy with the message. But clod-hopping bureaucrats keep coming up with solutions to fit Whitehall targets rather than the needs of green living. Going green should be about a simpler and better life, not a bin full of maggots.

Part of the charm of this calm but devastating “manual for a new material world” is that Hill is genuinely interested in where her stuff comes from. While wanting less of it, she recognises that from cave man to silicon man, our stuff is, well, the stuff of life. “We all love stuff – I am no exception”, she begins. So we can read about the secret lives of wine glasses and the weird metals in mobile phones, of Styrofoam cups and night soil, and analyse the ecological footprints of electronic book readers and packets of crisps, without being bludgeoned by guilt.

Our guide is sometimes off-message herself, after all. Hosing out the bin, Julie? Think of the wasted water. What’s wrong with a bucket?

Her stories of stuff are rooted in real life. She diagnoses “affluenza”; notes the end of repairing things; and caurterises a culture of almost pathological hoarding, exemplified by the fascinating TV series Life Laundry, in which those incapable of throwing anything away were ritually forced to spread their stuff out in the street, like a bargain-basement version of the final scene in Citizen Kane.

Hill is worldly but erudite. She is at home both up to her elbows in the contents of landfills, and in discussing the curse of environmentalism known as the Jevons paradox. Victorian economist William Jevons pointed out that if we use resources such as energy more efficiently, we almost invariably undermine the environmental benefit by using more. He had in mind industry’s use of coal, but the paradox applies equally to proliferating TVs or ever larger cars. Cars are so efficient these days you get as many miles per gallon out of an SUV as from an old Mini. Rather than taking the fuel gain, of course, we trade up to the SUV.

The paradoxes proliferate. She notes how entropy will ultimately defeat our greenest intentions, because energy use escalates as we try ever harder to recycle our rubbish. And how one of the great feats of environmental engineering – flushing our sewage down pipes to rivers – has ended up using huge amounts of one precious resource to deprive us of one of our best sources of another, the free natural fertiliser in poo.

Hill is at her best amid such troubling green conundrums. Which is the best material for construction? Concrete uses abundant raw materials but is energy-intensive, while wood is a renewable resource, but only if we take the trouble to renew it. And how about paper versus electronic communication? Sending an email emits one sixtieth of the carbon dioxide used to post a letter, but we send far more: Jevons again.

She enjoys a good stat, too. Did you know that the average Brit gets through 110 loo rolls a year? Or that if you cycle for a mile and replenish your energy with a cheeseburger, that burger will be responsible for carbon emissions of about 260 grams – roughly the same as if you had driven a car instead?

Amazing, too, to discover that there is a greater weight of ants on planet Earth than humans. But while ants pass unnoticed “because their activities are part of natural cycles”, we are crashing around destroying those natural cycles to make our stuff.

This book reveals Hill’s material passions, such as wool, but also her blind spots. This secret life of stuff has little space for the secret lives of the people who grow and make it. She is sceptical but sanguine about GM crops, and almost nostalgically anti-nuclear. But she lays into “the curse of the giant pink pencil” – our love of stupid consumer products – and “the myth of the green consumer”.

I think she is too tough on the green consumer, preferring the power of laws and regulations to green our stuff. But governments are too timid, and corporations too lazy, to act without consumer pressure. And Greenpeace is far more likely to intimidate the makers of our stuff than the latest ministerial incarnations at DEFRA or DECC. But this is not a blueprint for greener living or a manifesto for sustainability, but an enlightening New Year rummage through the cellars of our lives. If there is a resolution, it is that the house of humanity badly needs a spring clear out.

Sex and the City

sex-and-the-cityI’ve always been of the opinion that if Carrie Bradshaw had popped onto our television screens in 2010 instead of 1998, she would have been a blogger. But alas, she didn’t, so she wrote a (gasp!) print column for the fictional New York Star newspaper.

Yes, before there were blogs, there were newspaper columns – where readers couldn’t talk back or share good content. ‘Carrie the blogger’ would have been huge.

Though the words of Carrie and her cohorts have not been etched in permalink stone, their messages linger on. And despite the fact that Carrie was allergic to the internet and only used her Apple Powerbook for word processing her articles, the lessons, ideas and, more pointedly, the actual quotes that came barreling out of Sex and the City still speak directly to us Copybloggers.

“You sleep with someone, all of a sudden you start rationalizing all of the red flags away.”

Now, hopefully, you aren’t sleeping with your clients, readers or other bloggers (on a regular basis). Typically, the copybloggers’ dangling carrot (no pun intended, I swear) isn’t sex, it’s money. The woo of money or product can, sometimes, have a debilitating affect on a blogger and their writing. Recently, an intern at TechCrunch got into heaps of trouble for exchanging a blog post for a laptop – for example.

But what about these red flags? For Carrie and the girls, the sex pulled the proverbial wool over their eyes, for bloggers, it’s the cash. These red flags could be anything from illicit blogging behavior, a client that is extremely difficult, a blog that practices black hat SEO, selling a product that might do harm or agreeing to write really bad copy. Will we rationalize these red flags away for income? Heck, will we even rationalize the rationalizing for income?

“The only thing you need to get a date…is another date.”

No truer words have been spoken. How do you get traffic to your blog? With traffic. How do you get guest posting opportunities? By guest posting. How do you get more followers on Twitter? By having a lot of followers on Twitter. How do you get a lot of inbound links to your blog? By having quality inbound links that tell more and more people about your blog.

The concept is based on two facts. One: people are followers – not everyone – but the majority of folks. They hear that Copyblogger.com is a great blog so they stop by and see that there are 100K+ subscribers and so they subscribe, because if everyone else thinks this blog is great, well then, it must be.

And two: success makes us pretty. When you feel good, when things are going well, it shows. Think about being in love – you look handsome, you feel thin, good hair days abound, you have that ‘glow’. When things are going well at the old blog, it’s contagious. Your writing flows, the comments are long and thoughtful, your sidebar fills up with stylish ads, quality inbound links stream in. And all of this makes people step up their level of engagement with you. They want to be around your success, they’re attracted to it and hoping your hotness will rub right off onto them. Like a moth to a flame, and your flame is on fire.

“Coulda, woulda, shoulda…”

Have you noticed that the blogosphere moves fast? Someone recently remarked to me that, ‘Yes, everything has already been created – but not by us.” It is the plight and rabid complaint of the blogger to say that everything has already been written about. To me, that’s the equivalent of saying that all of the letters in the alphabet have already been used, so there is nothing left to write. Are you kidding me?

You are unique. Sure, a zillion people are writing about SEO or hats or astrology. But there is only one you – with your experiences and thoughts and context – writing about it. So don’t live to see your ideas under someone else’s byline. Don’t say, coulda, woulda, shoulda. Seize the moment of inspiration. Write it down. Publish it. Share it with your community. Blogging affords us each ‘our moment’ of opportnity 24/7/365. Take it.

“Everyone thought Batman could beat the Green Hornet, but the Green Hornet won because he had Kato.”

Blogs are the ultimate platform for the underdog, the every person, the ‘nobody’. You don’t have to be batman to win – even the Green Hornet has a fighting chance. Yes, we do have our blogebrities, but new ones are ‘making it’ everyday. Remember two years ago hardly anyone had heard of Twitter. Blogs have made it possible for a broke, depressed woman to cook and share a la Julie Child and get a book deal and a movie option. And a couple of dudes made an online college yearbook that, within a few years, has grown to hold the pictures and information for a gazillion users. While we all can’t reach superstardom, many of us leverage our blogs for decent product sales, service business platforms and advertising traffic.

And don’t forget the Green Hornet’s secret weapon. Yep, Kato – the sidekick, the friend…ah, maybe even the JV partner? Blogging is simply not a solo pursuit. We need readers, we need community, we need mentors. If we’re really lucky, we have a partner or a small crew of people that support us, send readers to us, have our backs and generally serves as our ambassadors in the world. We do the same for them. I don’t know about you, but if I was going up against Batman, I’d want Kato on my side.

“The flowers were supposed to say ‘I’m sorry, I love you’ not ‘You’re dead, let’s disco!’”

When Miranda’s mom dies, Charlotte arranges to have flowers sent for the casket. Obviously, it didn’t go well. There are two issues at play here. The first is about being appropriate. Know your audience and community, know the blog that you’re writing for, know the product or service or person that you’re selling. If you don’t take the time to listen and get your context, you’re liable to send a wildly ill-suited message – the equivalent of showing up at the school dance in a tux when everyone else is wearing jeans.

The second issue is that Charlotte gave specific directions to the florist on what sort of flower arrangement she was looking for, she trusted they would listen and get it right…and they failed. As bloggers, we have to trust writers that we hire to create copy for us, guest bloggers whose content we rely on to feed our pipeline and other bloggers who promote us. These people bring their own personalities and agendas. Sometimes their arrangement is a match, sometimes it’s a disaster. When you depend on others, calculate the risk.

“Monogamy is fabulous. It gives you a deep and profound connection with another human being, and you don’t have to shave your legs as much.”

Monogamy is like the ultimate in stickiness. It happens when you find someone who is so irresistible that you want to be with them and only them all the time. We all want a blog that sticks. One that people read religiously every day, one that they love so much they tell all of their friends on Twitter and Facebook and Stumble and Digg about us. And when our content and design and value is as sticky as can be, what we really have is a deep and profound connection with our readers. We have trust, we have two-way communication – and hopefully resulting sales.

The end of this quote deserves a closer look. If you stop shaving your blog’s legs – if you let the content get stale, get lazy with your tags or compromise the UI, you’ll likely weaken these relationship bonds. Your value will go down in your readers’ eyes. Sure, no one will bat an eye if you forget to shave a few times, or even if you grow a little stubble…but, if I were you, I wouldn’t let the hair get so long you can braid it.

Pictures of the month January

The Toy That Became The Ultimate Sport

One of the amazing things about the internet economy is how different the list of top internet properties today looks from the list ten years ago. It wasn’t as if those former top companies were complacent – most of them acquired and built products like crazy to avoid being displaced.

The reason big new things sneak by incumbents is that the next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” This is one of the main insights of Clay Christensen’s “disruptive technology” theory. This theory starts with the observation that technologies tend to get better at a faster rate than users’ needs increase. From this simple insight follows all kinds of interesting conclusions about how markets and products change over time.

Disruptive technologies are dismissed as toys because when they are first launched they “undershoot” user needs. The first telephone could only carry voices a mile or two. The leading telco of the time, Western Union, passed on acquiring the phone because they didn’t see how it could possibly be useful to businesses and railroads – their primary customers. What they failed to anticipate was how rapidly telephone technology and infrastructure would improve (technology adoption is usually non-linear due to so-called complementary network effects). The same was true of how mainframe companies viewed the PC (microcomputer), and how modern telecom companies viewed Skype. (Christensen has many more examples in his books).

This does not mean every product that looks like a toy will turn out to be the next big thing. To distinguish toys that are disruptive from toys that will remain just toys, you need to look at products as processes. Obviously, products get better inasmuch as the designer adds features, but this is a relatively weak force. Much more powerful are external forces: microchips getting cheaper, bandwidth becoming ubiquitous, mobile devices getting smarter, etc. For a product to be disruptive it needs to be designed to ride these changes up the utility curve.

Social software is an interesting special case where the strongest forces of improvement are users’ actions. As Clay Shirky explains in his latest book, Wikipedia is literally a process – every day it is edited by spammers, vandals, wackos etc., yet every day the good guys make it better at a faster rate. If you had gone back to 2001 and analyzed Wikipedia as a static product it would have looked very much like a toy. The reason Wikipedia works so brilliantly are subtle design features that sculpt the torrent of user edits such that they yield a net improvement over time. Since users’ needs for encyclopedic information remains relatively steady, as long as Wikipedia got steadily better, it would eventually meet and surpass user needs.

A product doesn’t have to be disruptive to be valuable. There are plenty of products that are useful from day one and continue being useful long term. These are what Christensen calls sustaining technologies. When startups build useful sustaining technologies, they are often quickly acquired or copied by incumbents. If your timing and execution is right, you can create a very successful business on the back of a sustaining technology.

But startups with sustaining technologies are very unlikely to be the new ones we see on top lists in 2020. Those will be disruptive technologies – the ones that sneak by because people dismiss them as toys.

Tried it, Albert Park Driving Range

I visited Albert Park Driving Range for the first time last week. I didn’t know what to expect, as I am not a particularly sports-oriented person by nature. But I love golf. It’s strange how much I love golf, yet the most I have played is a number of rounds at Studley Park Golf Course (par 3 pitch & putt). Still, I have this sense of certainty that I have a natural ability at golf. I, just as many people have done before me, first started playing Tiger Woods on Playstation and recently ended up with an Obi-Wan Kenobi sense of knowing that I could play in the Ladies’ Masters in 2008. All this without doing more than a couple of practice shots in the park and hitting a few putting strokes on the kitchen linoleum.

So when I arrived at Albert Park Driving Range I expected to be sitting back watching my partner hit 100 balls, acting out my role as a “Butch Harmon” type figure, pointing out diversions from the swing plane and the like. I have watched many golf videos by Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, and consider myself to be a combination of caddy / coach and professional motivator, only without the requisite golf playing ability necessary to facilitate such a role.

So it caught be particularly off guard when he turned around and said “do you want a go?” I didn’t even stop to consider anything, I just jumped up and said “yeah!”
Not realising that this “yeah” conveyed no actual underlying idea of what I was going to do when I got to the tee. Without thinking I grabbed the 1-wood, did the grip (I know that much at least!) and whacked the ball. To my amazement, it went up and straight towards one of the yellow flag markers. My partner was equally amazed, and encouraging. “Hit a few more!” he said. So I did, and to my surprise I actually got some good ones. Later on when I started thinking about it too much, I topped the ball, sending a 150 metre worm-burner down through the thick sea of other balls dotting the landscape.

Then I did what I am pretty sure has never been done in the Ladies’ Masters, nor any other professional tournament. I hit the ball down and into the tee, sending it sproinging back like a boomerang 3 metres behind me and rolling rather pathetically towards my partner’s feet. He stood there open-mouthed for a moment, trying to take in the situation, then burst into fits of giggles. Red faced I walked the longest 3 metres I have walked in my life, picked up the offending ball of shame and muttered “I’ll just try that again.”

Overally, I was pretty happy with the shots I made, aside from that backwards shot, the worm-burners (there were more than one of these!) and my spectacular sideways shot hit directly into the tightly-packed foliage of a conifer tree, never to be seen again. The range will have to strike that ball off their inventory until a strong gale is forecast.

Value for money was good: –
$7.70 for 50 balls
$14.30 for 100 balls
$2.20 clubs
$3.30 putting

I will be back “fore” more. Haahahahaha! So sorry about that one, it’s just that I was trying to type “for” and I did “fore” as a typo. So I thought I’d keep it in. I know. Even my typos do bad jokes.

Sky’s not the limit for this young designer

How was the man supposed to know who was blocking his camera?

After all, the dark-eyed kid with the long hair lingering near the hot silver car – and in the way – looked like he could have been anybody. Or nobody.

With his skinny frame edging ever so close, who could have blamed this press photographer at the Detroit Auto Show for wanting to move the guy out of the frame? Who was he, anyhow, the photographer must have wondered.

“Uh, excuse me,” the photographer yelled at Franz von Holzhausen as the young designer stood near his creation: the 2007 Saturn Sky roadster. “Can you quit leaning on the car? I’m trying to take a picture. By the way, are you supposed to be here?”

Could there ever be a more loaded question in this automotive world?

Von Holzhausen, a guy with boyish good looks who could easily pass for a decade younger than his 38 years, isn’t the future, he’s the now.

He’s part of a cutting-edge group of young designers who are taking the auto world by storm.

They’re hot. They’re brash. And they’re ready to place their collective stamps on the products of the future.

“There’s a real sense of satisfaction I get from creating things,” von Holzhausen said during some downtime in Detroit last January, just after the unveiling of the production version of the sizzling little two-seat Sky roadster, the exterior of which he personally penned. “There is something about seeing the final car at an auto show and knowing that you’ve poured everything into it.”

His story is one made for TV.

Von Holzhausen grew up on the American east coast and attended Syracuse University in the field of Industrial Design. He was an exceptional art student and eventually found his way to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

After that, von Holzhausen worked as an assistant chief designer with a team at Volkswagen in the United States, designing the Audi TT coupe and VW Concept One, which became the New Beetle.

But his most interesting break would come with General Motors after von Holzhausen moved from VW to GM’s design studio in Los Angeles, Calif.

In 2001, the Pontiac Solstice two-seat roadster was a pet project of GM product czar Robert Lutz. Shortly after joining GM in September of 2001, Lutz told design chief Wayne Cherry to create a Pontiac roadster concept car for the Detroit Auto Show, only a few months away. Lutz wanted to infuse Pontiac with a vehicle that would represent the soul of a race car at a reasonable price and he wanted a driveable concept ready in 15 weeks, about two months quicker than a typical concept vehicle.

The call went out to the designers at GM. They called it a sketch-off.

“Keep it simple, pure and beautiful and it will be easy to love,” Lutz told the GM designers.

“I actually decided to throw this particular sketch into the running at the last minute,” von Holzhausen said. “It was actually based on a coupe I sketched a while ago and thought it might look good as a roadster, so I thought I’d give it a go.”

The sketch was worked into a full-sized clay model in the California studio within two weeks. Designers, using knives, made changes with the help of computer models and von Holzhausen was constantly in the foreground telling them what he wanted.

By January it was on stage in Detroit.

“An incredibly gratifying moment in my life,” he says.

But it was only beginning.

Using his influences of Jaguars and Ferraris from the 1950s and 1960s as his guide, von Holzhausen moved on to developing other impressive vehicles, including the Sky, a two-seat roadster that some say is even more gorgeous than the Solstice.

His talent did not go unnoticed.

Less than six weeks after the Sky hit the turntable in January, 2005, he became the design director for Mazda North American Operations.

“It’s difficult when you lose any designer,” GM design chief Ed Welburn said at the Chicago auto show, just after the departure. “But this is a real problem in our business and one that, unfortunately, we have to live with all of the time.”

In his new position, von Holzhausen is responsible for overseeing the design and development of all vehicles for Mazda in North America.

“Franz brings years of innovative design expertise to our team,” said Robert Davis, senior vice president of product development and quality at Mazda’s North American operations. “We anticipate great things from him.”